WITH the end of the league season fast approaching, the BCS Vinyl-sponsored Hospital Cup kicks into life with a series of intriguing preliminary round matches taking place on Sunday evening.
Of the 10 fixtures kicking off at 5.30pm there are four all-Premier League contests, two of which are between top flight heavyweights.
The plum tie of the preliminary round sees Premier League title challengers Laxey welcome Rushen United to Glen Road. The Miners currently lie second in the table a point behind Grand Slam-chasers St George’s - albeit having played a couple of games more - while the Spaniards occupy fourth, having seen their own title challenge fade in recent weeks.
The last time the two sides met was little over a month ago and it proved to be a game to forget for the southerners as Laxey hammered them 6-1 on their own patch which would suggest another win for the Miners this time around. Form often goes out the window in cup competition but you would expect Laxey’s momentum to carry them past this weekend’s visitors and through to the first round proper.
The other big clash sees DHSOB makes the journey west to take on Peel at Douglas Road. It has been a season of transition for Rob Cottier’s Sunset City side but they warmed up to this fixture in fine style with a 10-1 demolition of already-relegated Ayre United in their last outing, with Matthew Woods leading the scoring with a hat-trick.
Old Boys currently lie one place below the westerners in sixth place but have four games in hand so should easily overhaul them in the coming weeks.
Having already been dumped out of the FA Cup by eventual winners St George’s, the Blackberry Lane side then narrowly lost 2-1 to St Mary’s in the league so they will be eager to arrest that run and return to winning ways and this would be the perfect time to do so.
Geordies will be firm favourites to keep alive their hopes of winning the Grand Slam when they meet Division Two counterparts Marown at Glencrutchery Road. Having come from three goals down to win 7-3 against another second tier side, Union Mills, in the final of the FA Cup, the Saints should be wary of complacency this time around and will be hoping to take control of the game early on.
Dave Brew’s Marown, like Mills, could cause problems for Geordies if they take the game to them from the word go but the defending champions should have more than enough to progress.
In-form St Mary’s face a potential banana skin when they travel south to face Castletown at the Stadium. The Bowl outfit boast a run of just one defeat in all competitions since the turn of the year - at the hands of Old Boys - and will therefore be favourites to get the better of the Mets. However, they will need to be on their toes at the back to handle the likes of Town forwards Mark Wolfenden and Alex Crawley who certainly know where the back of the net is.
The round’s other all-Premier League clash see St John’s travel to Tromode where they face a Gymns side who have once again survived a relegation dogfight and will enjoy Premier League football for yet another season at least. The Mullen-e-Cloie side have enjoyed a good return to the Premier League since their promotion last season and, with just one game remaining, lie seventh just a few points off the top four so they will be keen to extend their season slightly with a cup run.
Gymns’ now traditional second-half-of-the-season upturn in form could play a big role in this contest if they play to their full ability but St John’s will be expected to get the better of them to book their place in the next round.
Corinthians will also be favourites to progress after being drawn against lowly Division Two side Ronaldsway in Ballasalla. The Rockets currently lie rock-bottom of the table so the Whites will be expecting nothing less than a comfortable victory. Coincidentally the two sides met at the exact same stage of this competition two years ago when the Ballafletcher side emerged 3-1 victors.
Cup specialists Union Mills travel to Douglas Royal in a repeat of last week’s Woods Cup final hoping to get the better of them again. Having played two finals in quick succession, as well as travelling to Onchan tonight (Thursday), it remains to be seen how fatigued the squad is.
Elsewehere in the prelim round, relegated northerners RYCOB welcome Pulrose to Schoill ree Gorree while Foxdale travel south to take on Colby at the Station Fields and Police do likewise to face Malew at Clagh Vane.